Neil Sperry

Yard and garden things you didn’t expect to be doing now

Dallisgrass caption
Dallisgrass caption

There are five things you never thought you’d be doing at this time of the year. As I started my list, I realized how improbable they’re going to seem to many of you. Each is a time-sensitive task.

Autumn harvest

Plant tomato transplants for your fall garden. Plant tomatoes in late June? What a foreboding time. Why would that make our list? Because if you don’t plant them by the Fourth of July, tomatoes won’t have time to make a good crop before frost.

Do the math. Most varieties take 75 or 80 days to produce their first fruit. You can add a week or so to that because of cooler fall weather. But you want more than just one fruit, so figure an additional 6 or 8 weeks. Average date of the first freeze in DFW is mid-November, so do the backward countdown and you’ll arrive at late June/early July.

Buy tough transplants, and rig up a light shade over them for the first several days until they become acclimated to the summer conditions. Fall tomatoes are worth the extra effort!

Choose the same varieties you planted for your spring garden. Best among them: Red Cherry, Sweet 100, Yellow Pear, Porter, Roma, Tycoon, Celebrity and Super Fantastic.

But do call ahead — not all nurseries will have them. Buy from local, independent retail garden centers. National chain stores won’t have what you need this time.

Spot the spots

Use a bottomless 1-gallon milk jug to eradicate dallisgrass in your lawn. This is a great tip someone posted on my Facebook page.

Dallisgrass is the heavy, dark green clumping grass that weasels its way into even well-tended turfgrass. We no longer have a product that will kill the perennial weed without killing our “good grass,” so we are left to spot-treat with a glyphosate-only herbicide (no other active ingredient). Glyphosates do not contaminate the soil. They are only active on foliage.

For precise application of the spray directly to the dallisgrass, cut the bottom out of a 1-gallon plastic milk jug. Take the top off the jug and stick your spray wand down into it. Press the jug firmly over a clump of dallisgrass, then apply the herbicide until it coats the leaves. Carefully lift it up and you’ll have a perfect pattern of the dead dallisgrass.

Sure, it will look untidy for a short while, but the adjacent “good grass” will grow across the bare ground quite quickly.

Head check

Have yourself a “splash party” as you check your sprinkler system for needed touch-ups and tune-ups. It’s amazing how many repairs and adjustments you’ll find as you do it.

Heads may have become dirty and aren’t spraying properly. They may be misaligned, spraying water away from your chosen targets. Spring growth may have covered them so they can’t spray at all.

I just found a valve that needed to be replaced. One entire station wasn’t running at all. I do what I can, and I leave the more difficult tasks to the pros.

Little troublemakers

Watch for pests you can’t even see. This one will turn you paranoid, but here are a few pests that can damage our plants before we even know that they’re there.

Lace bugs turn leaves of pyracanthas, cotoneasters, Texas sage, sycamores, bur oaks, azaleas, Boston ivy and a host of other plants light tan in small speckles. You’ll see black specks on the backs of the leaves (excrement), but you’ll rarely see the cellophane-like pests that are actually doing the damage.

Contact insecticides will work well on them now, but the damage may be done for this year. A systemic insecticide applied in early June next year would be better.

Spider mites will turn lower leaves of marigolds, tomatoes and many other plant species yellow, then tan, then dried and crisp. If you thump a suspect leaf over a sheet of white paper, you’ll see almost microscopic pests start to move about. Most general-purpose insecticides will reduce their populations significantly.

Aphids, lace bugs and other insects secrete sticky honeydew. When those pests are high in trees, you’ll see the tiny driplets that make you think you’re seeing a fine rain. But that honeydew accumulates to the point of coating patio furniture, vehicles and even pavement below.

A systemic insecticide applied in early June would have helped, but at this point, it’s probably more effective to clean off the mess and park the vehicle somewhere else. Spraying to kill them would be costly or cumbersome (or both).

A real heartbreaker

Possibly remove rose bushes. This is not a message anyone wants to hear. But if your roses failed to bloom properly this spring, and if you’ve been seeing lots of abnormal buds and leaves this year, your plants probably have the fatal rose rosette virus and cannot be saved.

The longer you leave them in place, the more you’ll be helping the virus spread to others’ landscapes and rose gardens.

Do a web search for “aggie horticulture rose rosette virus” and you will find tons of useful information. I also have a full discussion on the home page of This disease has become an epidemic in North Texas over the past five years.

Neil Sperry publishes Gardens magazine and hosts “Texas Gardening” from 8 to 10 a.m. Sundays on WBAP/820 AM. Reach him during those hours at 800-288-9227. Online: